March 19, 2014
Finland's Bet: Jonne Koski
By Facundo Etchecolatz

“Training with Mikko is always fun. We are taking the training seriously, but still we have hardly had a single workout during which we did not have fun.”

Photos courtesy of JP Kaukonen

Jonne Koski was introduced to CrossFit by top European athlete Tuomas Vainio and now trains with 2009 CrossFit Games champion Mikko Salo.

Koski, 19, lives in Pori, Finland, and trains at CrossFit Varasto, the new box in his hometown, run and owned by Salo.

His first year in the sport, he was coached by Vainio, Europe’s top male athlete in the 2011 Open who went on to finish 19th at the Games that year.

“I got hooked with CrossFit two years ago,” Koski said. “I heard of it when Mikko won the Games in 2009, but back then I wasn’t up to it.”

Ever since he started swimming when he was 6 years old, Koski stood out. Believing their son should experience sports as fun only, his parents did not want him to join in competitions at a young age. He said he didn’t start competing until he was around 10.

The short to middle distances of 50-, 100- and 200-m freestyle and butterfly became his specialties in swimming. After his first shot at CrossFit in 2012, everything changed.

“I swam all my life and started competing when I was 10 years old,” he said. “I managed to get almost 15 medals in Finnish national youth championship competitions. I also represented my country as a team member of the Finnish Youth Swimming Team in Luxembourg in 2009.”

He stopped swimming three years ago, at age 16, and completely turned to CrossFit. At CrossFit Pori, he crossed paths with Vainio, who mentored him that first year.

“Jonne was a very well-rounded athlete from the moment that he came to the box,” Vainio said. “The foundations we could build on were perfect. He is a talented individual to start with, but also he had trained wisely before starting CrossFit. That is why he had exceptional general physical preparedness.”

After a few months of CrossFit, and without any competition experience, Koski felt inspired by Vainio and registered for the 2013 Reebok CrossFit Games Open. He finished 52nd in the Open, which earned him one of the last places to participate in the Europe Regional in Denmark.

“Last year, Jonne barely made his way to the regional, but he nevertheless left a mark in the Europe Regional as a rookie by reaching the 10th place overall,” Vainio said. “This year, I believe, he will excel in the 2014 Open workouts. He has improved a lot within the past year. In this year’s regional, he can seriously challenge the experienced top athletes in Europe.”

Koski's experience at the regional reinforced his desire to become an elite athlete.

“Last year’s regional was the most memorable competition I have participated in so far,” Koski said. “The atmosphere was awesome and I was very happy with my result there. I was happy to stay constant for the whole weekend. It was my first year competing and it really made me want for more.”

Last year’s regional also marked the beginning of Koski’s friendship with Salo. Soon after the competition, Koski got a job at Rogue Fitness Europe, where he works full time, and started training with Salo, who also works for Rogue.

“I am not Jonne’s coach,” Salo said. “I am more like his training partner and a friend who gives tips and the pressure to do things better and faster.”

Together, with Nico Smedroos, Salo and Koski follow a unique training plan.

“We do not have a training plan; we go by the feeling,” Salo explained. “The rules for training are simple: lift something heavy, do met-cons from different domains and train skills.”

Koski said the trio plans strength workouts at the beginning of the week.

“Then we think what type of (metabolic conditioning) and intervals should we do and when should we do those. It has worked perfectly for me,” Koski said. “I have made huge progress in met-cons and at the same time got my strength levels up.”

“Training with the champ gives you the great advantage of being able to train with a stronger and better athlete,” Koski said. “You always learn something—also from the rivalry. But we cannot compete against each other every day, as we need to maintain some balance in the workouts. Training with Mikko is always fun. We are taking the training seriously, but still we have hardly had a single workout during which we did not have fun.”

After three weeks of competition, Koski sits in sixth place in Europe. He finished second in 14.1 with 414 reps and seventh in 14.2 with 324 reps. Open Workout 14.3 was the most challenging for Koski—he finished 53rd with 151 reps.

He related it to last year’s regional.

“Just like 14.3, (Regional Event 5) was definitely the worst,” he said. “The combination of deadlifts and box jumps left my back so sore that it made it really uncomfortable to do the cleans in the last event. Deadlifts have always been my weakness. I am working hard to improve it.”

Koski’s mind is set on qualifying for regionals and he admits he is happy to be sitting near top of Europe’s Leaderboard.

“Of course it’s nice to see my name among so many amazing athletes, but I try my best not to look at the Leaderboard so often in order to avoid the pressure. After all, there are still two more workouts to be done.”

Koski said having Salo by his side for the two remaining Open workouts is a great advantage.

“Mikko supports me a lot during the Open,” he said. “He gives great tips and insights on how to face the workouts.”

And Salo, who registered for the Open but has not recorded any scores, said he is convinced that Koski is up to any challenge in CrossFit.

“He has to improve in everything to fulfill his dream, but he is a fast learner and willing to do the hard work,” Salo said. “I believe that he will be in the Games some day. I want to help him to achieve his goals.”